The benefits of a first-past-the-post electoral system is that it provides strong government. However, it also means that there is no room for third parties, as the Liberal Democrats have found to their cost since the time of David Lloyd George. The Liberal Democrat resurgence in the first decade or so of the twenty-first century seems to have been built on two factors. They were able to campaign as ‘Not The Tory Party’ in seats where Labour had a poor chance of winning. And they were also able to campaign as ‘Not The Labour Party’ for those voters who opposed Tony Blair’s mission to rid the Middle East of its vilest dictator. As a result, the Liberal Democrats built up their MPs from a paltry eleven seats in 1979 to sixty two in 2005.
This demi-renaissance, or balancing act as it could also be known, lasted right up to the election of May 2015 when the party suffered from a lack of a safety net. The party’s dirty secret for close on a century now has been that it would only be able to enter government as part of a coalition, and that’s it.
This has been the case on three occasions since 1931. The only problem is that, as far as the electorate is now concerned, the Liberal Democrats should only ever be in coalition with Labour. Thus when Nick Clegg led his party into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, they were acting in the national interest, but against the wishes of a large number of their supporters whose sole desire is giving the Tories a bloody nose at the ballot box. No one told Nick.
No Liberal Democrat manifesto will ever stand a chance of being implemented in full, in fact it is a tad dishonest of them to actually produce one. They should instead produce two, one saying what they would do as a junior partner under Labour and another saying what they would do under the Conservatives. Instead they maintain this pathetic illusion that they could actually form a government on their own, despite the fact that they lose deposits at parliamentary elections, something which their larger rivals rarely, if ever, do.
At last year’s general election, the Conservatives lost seats to Labour and the SNP. But this was more than offset by the twenty seven seats gained from the Liberal Democrats and was enough to have David Cameron as the Prime Minister of a Conservative majority government for the first time since 1997. It was a cruel irony that voters punishing the Liberal Democrats in their seats led to increases in votes for Labour and the Greens, but victories for the Conservatives. With redrawn boundaries favouring the Conservatives, the sting of Ukip being pulled after Leave’s victory in the referendum and Jeremy Corbyn making Labour irrelevant and unelectable, a Conservative victory in 2020 seems to be in the bag, barring a major economic catastrophe on the scale of 1992’s ‘Black Wednesday’.
So the Liberal Democrats are in the position of no longer needing a huge expensive battlebus to ferry their MPs and instead are able to hire two taxicabs. However the loss of seats has also lowered the collective IQ.
The new leader of the Liberal Democrats, George-Formby-lookalike Tim Farron, seems to have given up trying to harvest the votes of Conservatives who believe that Mrs May is not left-wing enough and those of Labour supporters who think that Jeremy Corbyn is excessively so. Instead he has decided to campaign for the stupid vote.
According to Mr Farron, Mrs May does not have a mandate to be Prime Minister of a Conservative government because she was not leading her party when it won the last general election. Just being Home Secretary is not good enough for Mr Farron. Instead, Mr Farron demands that a fresh election be held. This is just dumb and Farron’s idea depends on people being too ignorant of our unwritten constitution or too stupid to understand it.
We do not have a presidential election in this country to determine who the head of government is. We have a parliamentary election to elect members of that parliament to represent constituencies. And that’s it. And it has been that way for centuries. After this election, the monarch will invite the man, or – in the case of the Conservative Party – man or woman who can command a majority of MPs in the House of Commons to form a government. The monarch will do so based on the advice of the outgoing Prime Minister. The mandate that Mr Farron states is lacking is actually the support in the House of Commons, which Mrs May now has.
We vote for different parties, but as far as the house majority is concerned, they are irrelevant. It is the majority, not who makes it up, that matters, otherwise it would be reasonable to state that David Cameron’s coalition government should have had a second election after it was formed as the government that won the 2010 election did not actually fight it and thus, in Farron-land, had no mandate. Tim Farron is exploiting ignorance and stupidity among a public lacking a formal education in political science to try to make a meaningless point. Mrs May can command a majority in the House of Commons. That is her mandate. There is no need for a fresh general election.
There is a second reason why a fresh election any time before the date fixed by statute is a nonsense. Any election before 2020 will simply be a re-run of the referendum. We have already seen the serried ranks of misguided and ignorant sore losers demonstrating up and down the country, protesting at the outcome of a democratic vote, unashamed of their poor grasp of what a democratic vote means in this country. The fact that this idea for a snap election emanates from a party that has the word ‘Democrat’ in its name is ironic.
It is not democratic to keep holding votes until one side, always the Left, gets the right result. Every time Labour wins an election, the streets are empty of Conservatives protesting this fact, whereas when the reverse happens, the protesters are marching and causing mayhem as a matter of routine. Immediately protesting the outcome of a free and fair democratic process demonstrates the contempt for democracy on the part of the protesters. Unlike other European countries, hopefully including Scotland, we do not have a ‘second thoughts’ electoral process. It is disingenuous of Tim Farron to be seeking what would be a second referendum on the sly.
The third reason is connected with the second. There are three political events which will definitely tale place in the next four years. There is the invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the UK’s departure from the EU two years after this invocation, and the 2020 General Election. And that is the best order in which for them to take place. It would be absurd for an election to take place before invoking Article 50, for reasons outlined above. It would also be nonsensical for there to be an election between the invocation and the departure, as the election would again be fought on the departure and on no other issue. It is in the national interest, and not any specific party’s interest, for the order to be invocation, departure and then election. No other order currently makes sense.
The worst part of Farron’s campaign is that having a fixed term for a parliament and removing the right of a Prime Minister to choose the most politically opportune moment to call an election, by requesting a dissolution from the monarch, was a condition for the Liberal Democrats entering the coalition. Tim Farron actually voted for the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. It is dishonest for him to call for its abolition, just because of a change of Prime Minister. There have been numerous occasions when a Prime Minister has been appointed by the monarch without an election result causing the departure of his predecessor, so much so that such an outcome was foreseeable and it would have been reasonable to have such a provision catering for it to be included in the Act if there was a desire to do so. There wasn’t, not even by the Liberal Democrats, including Farron. All this demonstrates is that Farron is not fit to lead his party as he comes across as clueless or pandering to the ignorant. But then, there are few alternative leaders in the two taxicabs, unless Nick Clegg takes over again.
Having lost the referendum, perhaps Farron should join the other politicians quitting their jobs. And take up playing the ukulele.
Paul T Horgan works in the IT Sector
He lives in Berkshire.